Sky’s the limit for extraordinary cueist Mink
Twelve years ago, nobody could have fathomed that the skinny little girl sitting in a quiet corner of a Saraburi snooker club would one day become a world-beater.
Nutcharut Wongharuthai’s meteoric rise to the top in women’s snooker is a saga that has fascinated many.
The only reason Nutcharut, better known to Thai sports fans by her nickname “Mink”, picked up a snooker cue was that she had nothing else to do as she waited for her mother to finish her job at a snooker club in Saraburi, some 100km from Bangkok.
And her efforts finally paid off in Sheffield, England, in February when Nutcharut survived an extraordinary final against experienced Belgian Wendy Jans to become the first Thai to win the World Women’s Snooker Championship crown.
The 22-year-old Thai player potted the final black to seal a dramatic victory after producing a stunning fightback from 5-3 down to take the match in the deciding frame for a 6-5 victory.
“I am very happy to win the title for myself and Thailand,” she said.
Nutcharut later met Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House. The prime minister thanked the player for giving Thais happiness while the country is being hit by several problems.
“You created a good story for Thais during this difficult time,” Prayut told the cueist.
Nutcharut made it to the February 15 final after a quarter-final victory over three-time world champion Ng On Yee of Hong Kong and a convincing win over Rebecca Kenna of England in the last four round.
Jans’ victims on the way to the title match included 12-time winner and defending champion Reanne Evans of England in the last eight stage.
The monetary reward for Nutcharat’s efforts in Sheffield was a paltry sum of £6,000 (approx 260,000 baht) — a world away from the Players Championship final on the men’s tour a day earlier, in which Neil Robertson pocketed £125,000.
The final victory has sealed a place for Nutcharut on the World Snooker Main Tour pro circuit for two years, starting next season.
This gives her the opportunity to prove that she is capable of competing with the star names of the sport dominated by men.
“Snooker is for everybody … and now that I can finally play against men, I’m determined to raise my level to be as good as them,” she said. “These next two years are a great opportunity to show what I can do.”
Nutcharut’s great promise has been plain to see.
Three years ago she finished runner-up in the last women’s world final played before the coronavirus pandemic hit all sporting events.
She became the only female player to make a maximum 147 in 2019, recently reached the quarter-finals of a qualifying tour event, beating several male players en route, and won the women’s British Open in January.
Born and raised in Saraburi, Nutcharut’s early life was a struggle and she had to hang around after school at the snooker club where her mother worked as a cashier.
The dreariness she endured at the cigarette smoke-filled hall turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
The club was owned by Atthasit Mahitthi, a former top Thai snooker player also known as “Big Saraburi”, who started coaching Nutcharut just to help her kill time.
From that humble beginning, Nutcharut has blossomed into one of the finest female snooker players the world has ever seen.
Although she lost in the finals of the recently concluded world amateur and Asian championships in Doha, much is expected from her when she starts playing on the lucrative world professional tour later this year.